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Sleep disorder may be an early manifestation of Parkinson’s disease

Danish scientists recently conducted a large-scale research in order to estimate socioeconomic impact of Parkinson’s disease. Apparently, they discovered that it’s a considerable burden for the society, as Parkinson’s patients are often unemployed or get benefits, etc. Occasionally the researchers found out that Parkinson’s disease manifests very early as a sleep disorder. 

The scientists used data from National Patient Register of about fourteen thousand individuals who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s between 1997 and 2007. They were compared to healthy people with corresponding characteristics such as sex, age, social class and so on. The researchers discovered that eight years before diagnosis patients had some indications of future disease revealed in their behavior, work and health. 

The very early manifestation was the sleep disorder known as RBD, or REM behavior disorder. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the sleep phase in which people are dreaming; and their eyes covered by the eyelids are twinkling. Usually the brain shuts down the movement of the muscles during this phase to prevent our body from actions that we are “doing” in our dreams. 

But in RBD patients this mechanism fails. Thus the individual twitches their arms and legs or even shouts, kicks, laughs and so on. In severe cases the patients hurt themselves or their partners. Such disorder indicates problems with brain activity, which may be the first manifestation of Parkinson’s disease. 

This discovery is important because it may give possibility to diagnose and start Parkinson’s treatment earlier. Such therapy would be much more effective than fighting later symptoms. The researchers continue their investigation to determine if RBD is actually associated with Parkinson’s disease and is the separate pathology.